Since the event was largely catered to the schedules of students and educators, many woke up bright and early on Friday morning to travel by big yellow bus to Jewett Hall Auditorium. Why? For Reaching OUT, a conference for parents, teachers, students, and anybody interested in being educated on the issues facing LGBT+ youth in schools and around America.
After a long mingle with coffee, introductions began with officials from the sponsoring organizations. Equality Maine, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), and GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders) came together to give a trifecta of views on the problems facing the LGBT+ community. Three workshop sessions were held throughout the day with three options per session. With titles like “Interrupting Oppression,” “Trauma, Resilience and Prevention,” and “Creat[ing] Change through THEATER,” it’s a shame that no one person could possibly sit in on every single presentation.
Even in a relatively progressive setting such as SMCC, it is doubtful that anyone left that day without learning something. At one conference that day was highly focussed on educating those not “up” on the “slick lingo” of their fellow young people. For example, we studied gender on a spectrum, in which male and female are on opposite sides of a line, and neutrality/trans/queerness is in the middle. The graph is further split into three parts. The first is biological sex, or, what’s between your legs, including chromosomes and hormonal factors. Second is gender identity, or how a person thinks of themselves on the spectrum between male and female. Thirdly is gender expression, which charts the external communication of gender through presentation (clothing, hair, makeup, etc.).
Soon after the third workshop session, the conglomerate of students and faculty mingled back into Jewett Hall Auditorium. Here folks discussed various legal issues facing LGBT youth. These included gender-neutral bathroom availability, the changing of names to reflect gender, the flying of the LGBT Pride flag on school grounds, and more. The inconvenient truth is that even though many LGBT youth are abused by their parents verbally and bullied at school, they are still youth with very few rights as minors. Even at school, only thirty percent of bullying reported is reported as effective.
The fact of the matter is that our generation is reshaping the way we talk about people. They are creating respectful and non-discriminate spaces for discussion. Of all the highschoolers I met and spoke up in front, it was revelatory to see such smart, socially conscious kids without the token naivete projected on them. With any luck, the world will not buckle at the sight of political correctness, but will flourish with the virtues of respect in the youth.